10 things I wish I knew before going to Democratic Republic of the Congo

Roxana Acosta Sosa25 February 20213562 views14 min. read
10 things I wish I knew before going to Democratic Republic of the Congo

Captivating conversations with the natives, exciting forays into impenetrable jungles, and attractive rivers are all part of the show in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Covered in wide swaths of humid forest and splashed with mighty rivers and volcanoes, the DRC is the great African adventure. Both a geographical concept and a nation in its own right suffered in the s. XX of brutal colonial exploitation, authoritarian madness, and what has been called the first “African World War I”, which ended in 2003 with the rise of the Kabila political dynasty.

While real stability is years away, the prudent development of the DRC's vast untapped mineral wealth and the presence of the world's largest UN peacekeeping contingent has fueled optimism among a tormented but resilient population. At the same time, a small but rapidly developing tourism industry, centered around the Parc National des Virunga, has brought travelers back to one of the most exciting and challenging destinations in Africa.
Planning to travel to Democratic Republic of Congo? Find next the 10 things I wish I knew before going to DRC to do not find yourself in problems.

1. Where is the Democratic Republic of Congo?

mountains

I have had friends who have not been able to locate in their minds where is the Republic of Congo. Many have answered me that it was in Central America since the word "Congo" sounded more like the Caribbean to them. Well, just as they did not know where this place was, many people do not know either. I have known since I was little because I loved reading my father's encyclopedias, who, being a veterinarian, had thousands of books about wild animals and the love for gorillas was engraved in my mind and that the Republic of Congo is in Africa, a country that I have deep respect and special affection.

To travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo is to visit the former country of Zaire or Belgian Congo, located in the area of the great lakes of Africa, in the center of the country, north of Angola and Zambia and is the second-largest country in Africa with a population of 75.5 million people and occupies a huge area that exceeds 2.3 million square kilometers. It was a Belgian colony and hence French is its official language, but also others such as Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili, and Tshiluba.

It is divided into 26 provinces, the jungles and savannas are part of its territory, one of the rainiest in Africa. In it, the Great Rift Valley, the Congo River, or Mount Ngaliema stand out. It is a country rich in minerals and biodiversity, although unfortunately, its exploitation does not meet or cover the minimum needs of the locals, which is why poverty is very high.

Kinshasa is the capital of the DR Congo and with 10 million inhabitants it is the most populous city in Africa after Cairo and Lagos. The wooded savannah covers a large part of its territory and the famous Livingstone Falls are an emblem for it, it is also a country with a great cultural tradition, which stands out in the painting. You can travel to Congo Kinshasa, it offers beautiful places but always with caution.

2. Is it safe to travel to Democratic Republic of Congo?

police

The Democratic Republic of Congo was the site of a great war in Africa, which left the country devastated. Although the war ended in 2003, the United Nations and the Peace Corps continue to monitor security due to the instability and volatile situation. In early 2013 the UN was able to secure an agreement to end the rebellion in the eastern parts of the country.

Despite this, the security situation throughout the country is extremely fragile due to the clashes of armed troops that endanger not only tourists but also civilians, although the difference lies in knowledge and knowing how to move around the country. On the other hand, many embassies of different countries advise about the dangers of going to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Great care must be taken when taking public transport or when making road trips both due to their insecurity and their poor condition. On the other hand, extortion at border posts by migration agents is common, especially at the Ndjili airport, in the Ngobila river port for those entering the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Brazzaville, and at the land border with Angola, Rwanda and Zambia.

Keep in mind that if you are a tourist, traveling north and east is not recommended at all. Travelers should not enter or exit by land as there are more and more "express kidnappings" and assaults, of which foreigners who venture to drive or walk through the center of Kinshasa without taking the necessary precautions are victims.

In most cases, these kidnappings are carried out by fake policemen. The purpose is to steal the cash that is carried and go to ATMs to get the largest amount authorized. Theft is often accompanied by injuries and blows. There has also been a rebound in youth gang activity in the center of the capital and other cities in the country, such as Lubumbashi. Hence, walking alone if you travel to Congo Kinshasa and other cities is formally discouraged, especially at night, and it is recommended to drive in vehicles with the windows closed and the door lock activated as the dangers of going to Democratic Republic of Congo must be taken seriously.     

3. Interesting things about the Democratic Republic of Congo

village

Now that you know if is it safe to travel to Democratic Republic of Congo, the Belgian Congo, Congo-Kinshasa, or Zaire, whatever you call it! It is a country where the roads end up disappearing due to the force that the roots of the trees have and that has a strong population, which does not bend due to many calamities that happen, there are some interesting things about the Democratic Republic of Congo that surely you did not know:

  • If you travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo you will see how the past weighs down due to some things sadly known as civil wars. But what few people do not know is the Congolese rumba! Also called Soukous. It is sensual music of Caribbean origin, well mixed with African sounds. Artists like Papa Wemba, Kekele, or Koffi Olomide are worth listening to.
  • Another thing to write about is the character of the Congolese. They are friendly by nature! They are very good talkers, they like to joke and waver. And there are no other people in the world that know how to wear an orange suit with such arrogance! There is an African saying that describes them perfectly, only in central Africa is it known to enjoy the money.
  • If you travel to Congo Kinshasa, probably the noblest trait of the Congolese character is hospitality. Visitors are welcomed and entertained, they are generous. Whether they are rich or poor, they share what they have to eat and room to sleep. This trait is multiplied in refugee camps. In that environment, arrival is celebrated as a sign that they have not been forgotten, giving them hope for a better future.
  • Another interesting thing about the Democratic Republic of Congo is that white people are called muzungu, a word of Swahili origin. A Congolese told me what that word meant. In truth, muzungu is now translated as white, but the original meaning is the one who wanders, the one who walks without knowing where he is going! So they see foreigners in that way and I find it very funny.

4. To go to the Democratic Republic of Congo, you need vaccines

vaccination

Now that you know where is the Democratic Republic of Congo, you can imagine that it is a country with jungle and lots of rain since it is hot all year round. This has consequences: the mosquito. And the mosquito transmits many diseases, for something, malaria has always been one of the main causes of death in the country, the same happens with the zika disease.

Although we still do not have the vaccine against malaria, Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, it is advisable to always have mosquito repellent nearby. On the other hand, yellow fever is also transmitted by the mosquito and luckily, the vaccine is available in health centers. The certificate of this vaccine is mandatory for entry to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Apart from this, just for prevention (although to enter the country it is not requested), it is good to get vaccinated before traveling for Hepatitis A, B, and Typhoid since they help against contaminated food. It is advisable to get vaccinated against rabies, polio, triple viral, meningitis, and TDaP.    

5. How is the climate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

sunny day

Apart from mosquitoes, another of the dangers of going to Democratic Republic of Congo is its heat. For those who are not used to temperatures of 30 degrees C most of the year, it can be a problem but there is nothing that a refreshing rain does not alleviate. Generally, the rain appears between April and May and October-November in the equatorial zone. But in January-February and June-July, it doesn't rain as much.

Even so, in most of the country, the climate is tropical and during the dry season in the north, which is from December to March, the temperature can drop a bit and the conditions are better for the traveler. If you want to enjoy mountain gorillas, it is advisable to do it in January. On the other hand, the dry season towards the south appears between April and October, and is a good time to visit Kinshasa.

6. Beliefs that are difficult to understand

two children

We know that each country has its own beliefs that must be respected, but many other countries, such as the DRC, have beliefs that the western view maybe bordering on illogical. This is the case of the so-called witch children, so if you travel to Congo Kinshasa, you will see thousands of children roaming the streets alone, small children from 3 years old.

These children are alone in the world, they try to survive by eating what they find, and many steals or are trafficked. This is due to the belief that they have since every time something bad happens in the family, such as the death of the mother or father, they accuse the most vulnerable of practicing witchcraft as a means of justifying their evils.

7. Pay attention to souvenirs

souvenirs

Every time you visit a destination, you want to buy a reminder of the place as a souvenir or perhaps as a gift. Now that you know where is the Democratic Republic of Congo, you should pay attention since many of these souvenirs are made from parts of animals, generally hunted illegally.

This can go unnoticed in the sight of any traveler, but unfortunately, this practice is very common here and moves as much money as drug trafficking. You must be informed because many ignore the origin of these products for a lack of knowledge. You can find parts of sharks, ornaments of the tusks of elephants and rhinos, etc. practices completely illegal. You must be aware of what you buy.

8. Typical dishes

potato soup

If you travel to Democratic Republic of Congo you can try their typical dishes but you should know that many of them are made with animals in danger of extinction or that are reaching that limit. Before trying certain dishes, first I want you to know the origin of some of them: Shark fin soup, which involves fishing for about 100 million sharks a year. Turtle eggs are also consumed and it is causing a decrease in its population. Also, monkey meat is very common and some species are in danger such as the ‘gold monkey’.

However, a well-known dish is the Moambe, which is a stew made from paste or cream of palm nuts, onion, tomatoes, chili peppers. Chicken is normally used as meat. But there are versions with fish, beef, or even crocodile. Also, here the use of insects as an "exotic" source of protein is very common. Eating larvae, worms and arthropods was already a traditional custom in the interior of the country but it has become the culinary "new wave" in Kinshasa where tourists buy them.

9. Beware of false sanctuaries

white wooden house

Animal sanctuaries are created to offer animals the highest levels of care, free from any type of exploitation, however, you can find many captive centers that operate deceptively under the name of sanctuaries, orphanages, or shelters. Here, they exploit the animals by reproducing them and trade with them, fooling the tourist.

So if your question was is it safe to travel to Democratic Republic of Congo, well let me tell you that you should pay close attention to your surroundings and find out very well before visiting one of these places since if you pay to see an animal to entertain you or touching them when they are under a dose of medication, you are promoting animal abuse. It sounds crude and in fact, it is. You should have responsible tourism towards animals.

10. Senkwekwe, a real orphanage for gorillas

gorillas

The battles, coupled with the constant threat from poachers, disease, and deforestation have put the mountain gorilla population at risk. Only a little over 800 of them live today, most in the Virunga Mountains and most have been killed either in the line of fire or directly attacked by rebels seeking to steal baby gorillas to sold them to some zoo.

There are, however, shelters and ecological reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo that claim to protect gorillas from death or theft. One of them is the Senkwekwe Orphanage in the Virunga Mountains National Park, where workers care for animals that have lost their mothers. The center offers refuge to gorillas who have been traumatized by the relentless violence.

But even this refuge is under siege. Since 1996, more than 136 workers who have defended the park have died. The rebels are not only looking to steal from the little ones but to sell the meat of adult gorillas that has become increasingly popular in developing cities in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Senkwekwe center serves as an oasis of clamor, a place where animals can regain both physical and psychological health. Something must be done about it, perhaps with international intervention. We all know that losing gorillas would be like losing a fundamental part of ourselves.

Final Thoughts

lake in dr congo

The dangers of going to Democratic Republic of Congo are always present, you should pay close attention and not trust easily. The objective of this post is to inform those who have not had the opportunity to go to this beautiful country and to take into account these details mentioned here as there are many interesting things about the Democratic Republic of Congo that you should know before travel.

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